By TEA Interim Executive Director Terrance Gibson
National crisis dumped on public school educators is par for the course. Throughout history there have been episodes when the country could not effectively deal with an issue or crisis and public school employees were charged with addressing the challenge. When it was the issue of desegregation, we educators answered the call to make school an integrated, welcoming environment. When it was the issue of drug abuse, we saw schools charged with piloting programs like D.A.R.E. When communities saw the rise of gang violence, public school educators were asked to implement G.R.E.A.T. curriculum. During the financial crisis of the mid-2000s and the increased bankruptcy statistics, schools were charged with creating personal finance courses.
Now our country is grappling with an unprecedented pandemic that has also caused an economic downturn. Once again, all eyes are on our public schools to fix another crisis. Educators are being unfairly asked to shoulder the burden of helping our communities “get back to normal” by reopening schools in communities that do not yet have control of community spread of the coronavirus. The rush to reopen schools has been dumped on educators just as other issues were throughout history.
Educators have not wavered when faced with one challenge after another. Teachers have been on the frontline throughout this process providing meals, making distance learning work without proper resources and comforting students through the trauma of these uncertain times. But we must be given resources and equipment and allowed meaningful input to create the safest environment possible for all involved.
TEA has surveyed educators and community members and heard a loud and clear message: unfunded demands on educators with no support for educator health, safety, and whole-child mental health are the top concerns as reopening plans are discussed and announced without educators’ input. It is unfair to put educators on the front line in a crisis but not at the table to discuss what is best for all involved. It is unacceptable and sends an unintended message that policymakers do not appreciate educators.
Since March, TEA has challenged those in power to prioritize educator and student safety. We have stressed to legislators, policymakers and district officials that there are no simple solutions to these complex problems brought on by the pandemic. The issue of reopening schools should be approached with caution that involves the voice of educators and infectious disease experts.
We urge educators to fight for a seat at the table and ask community members to support us in that quest. We must all engage with fellow TEA members and recruit potential members to join us as we speak up and speak out on the multitude of issues impacting schools under this pandemic. Educator voice around the issues of safety, planning time, PPEs, structured school days and student expectations must be front and center in any district reopening and continued learning plans.